Monday, August 24, 2009

Africa Trip, 2009

This year, the trip lasted only 10 days in order to cut costs. Two young women accompanied me, Anna Nakayama and her sister, Katie Nakayama. Anna was my student in Cal Poly Chocolates, and after hearing about my trips, she was determined to come along this year. Her sister Katie, who had just spent 6 months in South Africa, wanted to get a taste of West Africa and possibly do her senior project using the material gathered during the trip.


Below are two maps--of Ghana and of Cote d'Ivoire--to help you know the locations of our visits.

Map of Ghana with West African Inset. Note that the red path denotes last year's trip. Click on the image to see more details.

Map of Cote d'Ivoire with West Africa Inset. Again, the red line denotes last year's trip, when we had a week in each country. Click on the image to see greater detail. We passed through Divo and Lakota (!) to get to Issia.

WHAT WE ACCOMPLISHED--A list of the trip's highlights

1. We spent 2 nights in Ebekawopa. We donated a dryness meter and 50 cocoa storage bags. I was enstooled as development chief. The general chief gave me 3 acres of land.

2. We visited Maker Faire in Accra, where we learned about low-tech inventions that could improve the quality of village life.

3. We visited six villages in the regions of Issia and Daloa and delivered 2 dryness meters plus cocoa storage bags.

4. We toured the Saf-Cacao plant in San Pedro to learn about quality grading of beans, various lab techniques, and large equipment used to produce cocoa liquor.


As usual, I (Tom Neuhaus) led the trip. This is my seventh time in West Africa. I bring people along in order to teach about the complexities of the cocoa business. Both Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire have some child slavery/WFCL (Worst Forms of Child Labor) associated with cocoa production. My view on this is that such practices would be a lot less common if the farmers received a living wage from cocoa production. It is to promote that view and to spread awareness in order to counter ignorance and bias, that I conduct these trips. For more, see my NGO, Project Hope and Fairness.

From the left: Katie Nakayama (a student at Washington College in Chestertown, MD); Peter Joy Sewornoo (my assistant in Ghana for the past 3 years); Anna Nakayama (who majors in Nutrition at Cal Poly University); Padmore Cobbina, an old friend; and Alex (in the back), our intrepid and supernice driver in Ghana.

Albert Kouassi Konan, my current assistant in Cote d'Ivoire and former director of Kavokiva, one of the two Fair Trade-certified cocoa cooperatives in Cote d'Ivoire.

Saturday, August 8

I left San Luis Obispo around 5 PM and drove south to Los Angeles. On the way, I encountered a huge plume of smoke extending out over the ocean north of Santa Barbara. By the time I entered Santa Barbara, the plume was covering the setting sun, which had turned blood-red. Not being of the superstitious sort, I did not take this as a sign.

I arrived at the LAX airport around 9 PM and checked into the Hilton, where I had arranged to park/sleep/fly. I parked the car at the lowest level (closest to the devil), where the temperature was easily over 100 degrees. I paid a valet to help me with the luggage, as I had two large suitcases plus a large cardboard box containing the three dryness meters.

I fell asleep around 11 PM and woke up at 4 AM. Little did I know that Anna, Katie, and their parents were already at the airport, waiting for me! Oops!. I reasoned that it was a local flight (that is, to NY), so arriving 2 hours in advance would be sufficient.

Sunday, August 9

However, when I arrived at the terminal a little after 5 AM, I discovered how wrong I had been. The terminal was PACKED, criss-crossed with lines of desperate travelers. We stood in line for probably a good 45 minutes before we could check in, then stood in line to put our suitcases into the security system another half hour, then stood in line for maybe 20 minutes to get through security. By the time we made it to the gate, the flight was just starting to board.

We arrived in NYC around 3 PM. As we landed, I text-messaged Juliet (my daughter) and James (my son) that we had just arrived. This turned out to be the right thing to do, as I had emailed from the hotel room announcing our arrival "tomorrow", which meant Monday to people three time zones in advance. So, James, Juliet, and her fiance Cem jumped in a cab. By the time we had retrieved our bags and found a nice lounge in Terminal 1 (International Terminal), they were well on their way.

Evariste Plegnon, who is currently living in NYC and who worked for us in previous years, also joined us at the airport. We spent several hours together.

Around 6 PM, we checked in and boarded the flight at about 8 PM. We took Royal Air Maroc to Casablanca, Morocco.

Monday, August 10

We arrived in Casablanca at 8 AM. Fortunately, our baggage had been checked through to Accra, so we didn't have to think about it. I changed a few dollars and we exited the terminal.

There are new security measures, so cars can't come close to the terminal. We had to walk several hundred feet in the blazing sun. There were dozens of taxis lined up in the parking lot, but no one approached us. Instead, I asked the first person I met for a taxi. One man agreed to take us to Casablanca. This was the beginning of a big fight that lasted a full 30 minutes, during which we were shunted from one taxi to another and over 40 drivers engaged in a brawl, throwing fists, hurling Arabic epithets, lifting the taxi up to prevent the wheels from touching the ground, jumping onto the taxi, etc. etc. Meanwhile, the police did virtually nothing. Turns out that there were two groups of drivers: those for taxi rides around the airport and those for all-day excursions into Casablanca. Because the rule of law is nonexistant due to the easy corruptility of the local constabulary, we were witnessing a continuing saga, never to be resolved, because for a few dirhams, a policeman will ignore the law and look the other way.

The issue was eventually resolved by driving away at the first opportunity and we proceeded to drive to Casablanca. The cost of the day-long trip was a follows: 300 dirham to Casablanca, 300 dirham for the day, 300 dirham back. Altogether: $130.

During our stay in Casablanca, we visited the Hassan II mosque, a souk, we ate a fine Moroccan lunch, visited two bakeries, and we drove along the coast to see how the Saudis live.

We started our day in Casablanca at the Al Mounia restaurant, which means "The Desire." I asked our cabbie to take us to a restaurant that would serve typical Moroccan food, not too expensive.

We sat in the patio under a lovely tree that filtered the rays of the harsh Moroccan sun.

I ordered four classically Moroccan foods: Mint tea, Pigeon Bastela, Brik, and Tajine. Mint tea is made by putting a giant cube of sugar (2 inches by 2 inches by 2 inches) in a tea pot, adding dried mint, then ramming a fistful of fresh mint. Boiling water is added, and the whole is steeped. The result is one of the best beverages you will ever drink.

The second food, Pigeon Bastela, is the forerunner of the "pastry." During the Middle Ages, "pastries" in Europe were mere copies of Bastelas the Crusaders encountered during their murderous rampages in the name of Jesus. The English mincemeat pie has for pedigree the Pigeon Bastela. This is a flaky pastry stuffed with pigeon (not the poisonous pigeons in the park), dusted with powdered sugar, cinnamon, and toasted almonds.

The third food, Brik, is the forerunner of puff pastry (Napolitana or Napoleons) and the Austrian Strudel. It is a circle of thin dough folded around a raw egg and ground meat. It is deep-fried and served as an appetizer.

And the fourth food we tasted was Tajine or stew. In this case, we tasted lamb with olives and salted lemons. The Moroccans preserve both with salt, and the flavor combination is exquisite.

After dining sumptuously, we headed over to the Hassan II Mosque. This is the third largest mosque in the world, and its minaret is the highest. Designed by a French architect, the building materials are mostly from Morocco. It holds over 20,000, and the cedar roof pulls back to reveal the night sky and allow hot air out.

Underneath the mosque are baths designed for doing ablutions before entering the sanctuary. The interior is very high, the floors heated in the winter and the pillars and walls covered in all sorts of Moroccan marbles

This is my third time visiting the mosque. The tour guide was very impressed that I knew that all the 20-foot high doors are made of pure titanium (the metal used in nuclear-tipped missiles), although I should know something after hearing the commentaries thrice.

After the mosque, we drove along the coast to watch the wealthy bathe. We then visited two bakeries, one specializing in almond-based pastries, and the other the village bread baker.

This photo shows just one of dozens of almond-based pastries.

In the same neighborhood, we found this bread bakery. The oven is heated with wood. The woman in each household mixes bread dough each day, and the children carry the dough to the bakery, where the oven tender bakes it. Thus, each family makes its own bread and eats it fresh every day.

Moroccans love olives (me too--I must be Moroccan at heart, or maybe stomach). They shop for olives in stores dedicated to just that one item. Of course there are many varieties. They ferment olives in these enormous barrels. The old man with his back to the camera is in his 80s. As they say in the field of medicine, "use it or lose it." He's still using it and hasn't lost it.

On our way out of town, we passed the camel butcher shops. Note that they use the head for advertisement. Camel is quite delicate in flavor. This does not match the camel's personality, which could hardly be described as delicate.

We drove back to the airport, boarded the plane, and flew over the Sahara to Accra, Ghana, where we landed at 2 AM.

Tuesday, August 12

After clearing customs in record time, we exited the terminal only to find... no Peter! We stood around until 2:45 AM, at which point, I decided to hire a cab and go to the Mensvic Hotel, a place that we had decided not to frequent because it's become too expensive. In fact, all the hotels around the airport are now $100 per night instead of the $50 when I first started visiting Ghana.

We drove to the Mensvic, but it was full. We then tried a few others before finding a hotel that had two rooms. But they cost as much as the Mensvic. By that time, I had called Peter's phone at least 5 times, and this time he answered. He and Alex, the driver, came and met us and we drove to a much cheaper hotel. It turns out that Peter had misread my email and thought we were landing at 3 AM. Then, on the way to the airport, they got stuck at a police checkpoint. Alex was wearing slippers, which signified to the police that he was a burglar (as house burglars in Ghana wear slippers.) That's why they were late.

We slept from 4 until 8, then rose, ate breakfast, and drove to meet friends (Bob and Mary Kate) from upstate New York. He works for USAID in the field of education, and two of their daughters were there. We reminisced about old times for an hour, then drove to north Accra to pick up cocoa storage bags from Agrimat.

While we waited to finish the transaction, I took pictures of sprayers and chemicals. The fact is, almost every cocoa farmer I've ever met is dying to spray chemicals on his crop. Many of the sprayers are back-mounted, and children often do the spraying, usually without protective gear. As a result, the chemicals enter their bloodstreams and cause hormonal disruptions and eventual cancer. There is no substitute, however, for proper trimming of the cocoa trees to minimize insect and fungal damage, and there are organic pesticides that are not dangerous to children or adults--such as neem.

We drove from Accra to Cape Coast. We arrived in the late afternoon, visited the castle, and then ate dinner at the restaurant next door. The castle is a World Heritage Site. There are over 40 castles on the Ghana coast, but only two are in good shape--this one and Elmina, which is located 20 miles away. In 2003, I met Peter at the Cape Coast Castle; he was my tour-guide. For more than 200 years, the Cape Coast castle housed more than 1000 slaves at a time. The Swedes, Portuguese, Dutch, and British used it to trade in gold and slaves.

After visiting the castle and eating our dinner, we drove north to Ebekawopa. This takes about an hour, as it is just a couple miles south of Kakum National Park. We arrived around 9:30 PM during a light rain. As a result, there was not the customary welcoming bonfire, so we prepared to sleep in our customary dormitory--the floor of the church. We all took our African showers, which consists of walking behind the church into the "weeds" and pouring buckets of cold water over ourselves in the pitch darkness. Samson, the Lutheran minister, had rented mats for us to sleep on, so we felt rather comfortable (if you forget the multitude of possibly malarial mosquitoes buzzing about).

Wednesday, August 12

We started the day by visiting Pastor Samson's cocoa farm. When you walk onto his land, you realize that he trims his trees better than most farmers. There are fewer black pods on the trees, and little excess foliage below 6 feet off the ground. Pastor Samson demonstrated the use of a pole for cutting pods that are higher off the ground.

Here is a brown pod. This happens when the pod is injured and fungal spores are able to gain entrance. Like so many plants, the cocoa tree produces a brown cuticle to prevent fungal inroads. However, a simple abrasion can facilitate entrance of the spores, which germinate and send their hyphae into the sweet plant flesh. Brown pod is a sign of humidity build-up during misty weather and poor trimming techniques, causing the foliage to block life-saving air circulation.

The picture below shows a cocoa pod that has been damaged by myrids, small flies that bite through the pod's cuticle, infecting each spot with fungal spores that germinate and begin to suck out juices, killing the plant cells around the center of the bite. It is to control myrids that cocoa farmers beg me for sprayers.

On the way back from the farm, we stopped by the village's palm oil factory, essentially a roof over some rather dirty-looking equipment. This woman is preparing to boil palm fruits in order to extract the fibrous pericarp that is then pressed to make the highly colored palm oil. The hard center is the palm fruit's kernel, cracked and roasted to extract palm kernel oil which is used in many European chocolates.

Below is a picture of a press used to extract the oil from the boiled pericarp. In default of such a press, families just boil the fruits to separate the pericarp from the kernels, discard the kernels, and then boil the fiber until all oil has been extracted and is floating at the surface.

We continued to walk back to the church, where our breakfast awaited us. Just outside the church, one of the villagers showed off his latest catch for the stewpot, an animal whose name escapes me but that is found in West African forests, clinging to trees.

After breakfast, we walked to the school, where we had a little donations ceremony. I was dressed in chiefly garb and "enstooled", meaning I was formally made chief of the village. This involved being sprayed with talcum powder and women waving scarves in my direction and chanting. I was set on a stool that had been carved for the occasion and that will remain in the village (I didn't want to carry it home) for my use during future ceremonies.

This picture shows me presenting a dryness meter and 50 cocoa storage bags to the general chief, who in return gave me 3 acres of land. This is exciting, because we might be able to set up a cocoa studies center and a program that can be attended by university students, faculty, and cocoa farmers.

After the ceremony, we drove to Cape Coast in order to visit the castle, have dinner, and walk on the beach. We returned to Ebekawopa and spent a second night.

Thursday, August 13

Today, we went to Kakum, which is located about 2 miles north of the village. We did the usual canopy walk, which consists of seven frightening, swaying, "bridges" connected to 8 large trees by metal cables. I always do the walk, but reluctantly, as I have to summon reserves of courage and determination to walk out over the forest floor at an elevation of 100 feet. Afterwards, Peter demonstrated how in pre-colonial times, forest peoples sometimes took shelter among the buttresses of certain species of tree. This particular tree is small, so the shelter is a little tenuous.

In the late afternoon, we left Ebekawopa and drove back to Cape Coast. Along the way, we stopped at a hotel/restaurant that sits over and around a crocodile-infested lagoon. Peter, Padmore and I did the touristy thing and petted the varmint, kept preoccupied by a piece of raw chicken dangled above its snout.

Friday, August 14

We left Cape Coast and drove back to Accra in the morning. There, we stopped by the home of personal friends, Kapil, Tara, and Karan. Jayant, Kapil's father, was there as well. We spent a couple hours talking. During this time, I learned that neem is commonly used in India as an insecticide and that the neem tree is a popular plant that also grows in West Africa. In fact, there are two neem trees in their yard!

Peter re-confirmed our tickets to Abidjan and we headed for the airport. When we arrived, we found that the flight had been canceled. After much consternation, we met the Air Ivoire manager, who assured us that he would make sure we would be on the passenger list for the next day's flight. This meant we would lose an entire day in Cote d'Ivoire. I called Albert using Peter's phone and let him know. We spent the night at Kapil and Tara's house.

Saturday, August 15

The next morning was spent visiting the Maker Faire, which was being held all weekend at the Koffi Annan Center of Excellence. Participants were young African inventors, some of them MIT students.

Sign at the entrance...

Below is a cocoa and grain drier that relies on black tubes heated by the sun, convected air wafting into the central cavity where the beans are heated by the sun's rays. The cover of the drier is a sheet of plastic held in place by gravity, and trays of grain or cocoa are inside. If it rains, no problem. One of the biggest problems in producing quality chocolate is molding, which produces a dirty flavor and excess bitterness.

There were many other inventions--such as:

  • metal disk that attaches to lightbulbs. Disk holds pyrethrin-soaked materials. Pyrethrins kill mosquitoes. Problem is, there are no lights in villages.
  • Corn shuckers: small pieces of metal tubes that easily remove kernels
  • Toilets: a pressing need for villages, which usually have nasty latrines.
  • Refrigerator: powered by the evaporation of water. Good for keeping vegetables cool.
  • Chlorine generator: electrolysis of salt water produces chlorine gas that can be used for sanitizing

At noon, we ate at a South Indian restaurant specializing in Dosas. What a treat!

We went to the airport and by 4 PM were flying to Abidjan, where we landed at 5 PM. Albert met us at the airport. We stood around for an hour because on of our suitcases, carrying gifts for the villages, had not showed. Unfortunately, it never appeared, so we drove to the Golden Hotel, where we checked in.

At 7 PM, we drove across Abidjan to eat at a restaurant, and we were joined by several of Albert's brothers.

Sunday, August 16

We used a fancy jeep to get around. Here, Albert (my assistant) and the driver (Arsene) fit the luggage inside. We left at 7 AM without even eating breakfast, as we had a lot to get accomplished. We drove fast (don't ask) and made it to Gagnoa around 1 PM.

Below is a picture of the Cargill cocoa treatment plant, located in Gagnoa. Two companies control 75% of the beans entering the U.S.--Cargill and ADM. And those beans come from Cote d'Ivoire.

We continued driving Northwest toward Issia, our first destination the village of Djahakro, which is Baoule. You know this by the suffix kro, which means "village" and Djaha, which is a family name.

Before we turned off, we stopped to look at this plantation owned by SOA Societe and which is, according to Albert, certified by Rainforest Alliance. Many American companies (e.g., Kraft, Mars) are avoiding Fair Trade (too expensive), electing instead to use products certified by Rainforest Alliance. Large corporations such as SOA Societe can buy tracts of land from the Ivorian government that are partially forested, then plant cocoa under the remaining overstory trees. A quick way to make a buck and to apply a little greenwash, but it tends to work against the interests of the villagers, who would benefit more from the Fair Trade system.

Here is a sign erected to remind people not to use children for growing and harvesting their cocoa, posted on Rainforest Alliance land, a short sermon about child labor. This is quite the joke, however, as virtually all children in cocoa-growing villages work with cocoa. The RA land is owned by a corporation and necessarily hires farm labor. The surrounding villages, however, are so impoverished (having no deep pockets like the corporations) that they are forced to use their children as farm labor. And since there are no educational or job opportunities, what else should children do with their time? There are no TVs to watch.

We turned off the main road onto a a very iffy dirt road. We drove about 2 miles to reach Djahakro. This was one of three villages to receive a scale, thanks to Shana Dressler's chocolate tasting held in Manhattan on Valentine's Day. Shana started an NGO called Global Giving Circle. We are talking with her about enlarging the campaign to "6000 Scales for 6000 Villages."

The village was ready to receive us: the scale in the middle and the villagers facing us as an audience. The oldest man and the oldest woman were introduced to us. In West African society, age garners respect, and people who make it to a ripe old age merit attention.

The ceremony started as do all in West Africa, with an exchange of "News". This means that the village chief first asks us why we are there and what's new in our lives. Then he responds with news of the village. Then we drink palm wine to cement our relationship.

We also drank some Coutoucou, which is a brandy made from palm wine.

After that, 3 people and I went into the bush to make video clips of how the scale will benefit them. I interviewed a young cocoa farmer, an old cocoa farmer, and a woman. While the two cocoa farmers discussed how the scale would promote a more honest relationship with the middlemen (pisteurs), the woman talked about how the scale would help her and other women make more money selling produce (yams, cocoyams, corn, rice, bananas, plantains, and sweet potatoes).

I took a number of photos unique to this village. Below, for example, is a unique way to dry corn. I've seen corn drying in cribs, but never hanging off a pole like this...

Ateke is a popular starch in Cote d'Ivoire. lt is made by shredding raw cassava, letting it ferment lightly, and then drying it. It is steamed and served with stews. The pictures below show two ways of shredding cassava--by hand or by machine. The shredding machine in this case is mounted on a bicycle, and the young man makes a living traveling from village to village. An unanswered question: is there enough cash in a village's economy to even support this? I got the sense that the women were not too keen on paying someone to shred their cassava when they could do it themselves.

Ateke shredded by hand...

Ateke shredded by machine...

We took a bunch of group photos. The village was thrilled to host its first "white people," so they had hired a photographer and they were forming all sorts of groups in order to have some "memories". In this photo, we are posing with some of the village's women.

We left Djahakro after two hours and continued in the direction of Issia. Our next village was Zereguhe, part of a clump of villages we visit every year. It is located about 3 miles outside of Issia. Zereguhe already has a scale and a WC, so this year, we gave them a dryness meter and some storage bags. The scale is still in good shape, still being used, still saving the farmers money in their dealings with the pisteurs or middlemen.

Here's the scale, now over 3 years old...

We spent the night in Depa. I did not bring any gifts this year, as they already have a WC, a scale, and a dryness meter. The chief informed me that thanks to the dryness meter we brought last year, their cocoa was recently recognized as the "Best in the Department of Issia." And because of this, he has been made chief of the whole department and will be meeting the country's president later this month. Laurent Gbagbo is running for re-election, and M. Seri Justin, Depa's chief, is now recognized as being politically quite important. He was so happy, in fact, that he made me chief of the village. Here I am in my chiefly regalia... I publish this with a certain trepidation, because I don't want people to think that it's all gone to my head (so to speak.)

Monday, August 17

We woke up early this morning to have a ceremony, as we had arrived too late. While waiting for the ceremony to begin, I took this picture of women just outside our house drawing water.

And here they are schlepping heavy, sloshy plastic basins of water, spilling nary a drop.

The ceremony began at 7 AM. The chief, Seri Justin, spoke at length about how useful the dryness meter had proved to be and thanked me publicly for the past donations. He said that he was at a loss on how to repay me, so he had decided to make me village chief, the only repayment that he considered of sufficient value. I told him that just getting video of farmers extolling the usefulness of scales and dryness meters was sufficient repayment for me, for without those testimonials, I cannot move forward with the "6,000 Scales for 6,000 Villages" campaign.

We said our good-byes and headed 1 mile down the road toward Issia to Pezoan. Here, we were merely visiting and interviewing, and the chief was not happy that he had not received as much as the chief of Depa. He went through the motions, but his face was set in a scowl. The Pezoanese, on the other hand, were very warm and happy. Below is a picture of the WC paid for by Skyline, the Cal Poly business major who accompanied me last year.

And here is our very short ceremony where I presented the chief with the little I had brought (seeing as the suitcase with the Tchotchkis was still in the possession of Air Ivoire.)

After we left old sourpuss, we drove in the direction of Daloa, which is about 60 miles northwest of Issia. Our first stop was the village of Broguhe, the chief of which I consider to be a good friend because he has such a good attitude. He wants to make things work. I still haven't gotten his wife's sewing room electrified (you can donate to Project Hope and Fairness and earmark your donation.)

This year, thanks to the efforts of Shana Dressler of Global Giving Circle, we were able to dig a well for the village and give them a dryness meter. The well is 90 feet deep. It takes quite some time to lower a pouch and bring up the water. The water is clear, however, unlike the water of the old well, which is about 300 feet from the village and is full of thousands of bugs. Often villages will have two wells: one for bathing (murky water that is drawn close to the surface) and one for drinking (deep water).

Here is a view to the bottom of the well...

In this photo, we are donating a dryness meter to the chief of Broguhe.

And this photo requires no explanation...

We left Broguhe and drove to our next village, Abekro. This is where Eugenie lives. She was at one time on the board of directors of Kavokiva, at one time a viable Fair Trade cooperative. Both of Ivory Coast's Fair Trade cooperatives are in serious financial trouble. This is a direct result of American complacency. In Britain, 8% (and actually far more now that Cadbury and British Mars have made their marvelous commitments) of all chocolate is Fair Trade. In the U.S., about 0.2% is Fair Trade. So Kuapa Kokoo and other Fair Trade cooperatives in Ghana are doing quite well because England traditionally purchases Ghanaian beans. The Ivorian Fair Trade situation is bankrupt because the U.S. chocolate industry, which purchases 75% of its beans from Cote d'Ivoire, has snubbed the Fair Trade system. Anyway, that's the truth, and you can take it or leave it. Most of the Fair Trade chocolate sold in the U.S. is manufactured in Germany from Ghanaian beans or Dominican beans, or Peruvian beans. Not Ivorian.

I would love to start a line of Fair Trade Ivorian chocolate. Several years ago, I spoke with the Vice President of Aramark, the world's largest catering company, about the possibility of committing to ALL chocolate sold in all 450 of the universities they service (including Harvard) being Fair Trade (not organic) just to jumpstart the FT business in Cote d'Ivoire. He responded that it would be impossible because Aramark has no control over the identity or the quality of their ingredients. Some catering company. I know when I've been blown off. Some day, maybe somebody here in the centrally isolated U.S. will do the right thing. As Winston Churchill once said, "You can count on the Americans to do the right thing. After they've tried everything else."

Abekro is quite far into the bush. Below is a picture of a woman pounding cassava to make foutou, the Ivorian equivalent of the Ghanaian fufu...

And here is a photo of the donations ceremony. The people of this village were so unaccustomed to the idea that someone from outside their community would actually care that they sat, stupefied, and only slowly warmed up to the realization that they had been given a marvelous tool!

After Abekro, we drove down the road in the direction of San Pedro to a village famous for its monkeys. The story goes that in the 19th century, when the French colonialists were capturing able-bodied young men and women, using them as forced labor on their farms, a village doctor made a potion to turn his entire family into monkeys. Unfortunately, he was in such a rush that his reverse potion didn't work, and the entire family stayed as monkeys. Hence, it is not permitted to kill these monkeys, of which there are about 600. I've been to this village 3 other times, but I wanted Katie and Anna to see them.

We drove into Daloa where we visited the only scale manufacturer in Cote d'Ivoire. They manufactured the three scales we delivered this year. A 200 Kg capacity scale costs $400 and then you can add on about $100 for delivery costs.

We spent the night in a nice hotel, where we got to wash up and prepare for the voyage home.

Tuesday, August 18

As usual, an early morning. We drove rapidly south. At 9 AM, we stopped at a friend's of Albert's and Arsene's, who fed us breakfast. He is the doctor of a clinic; he does everything except surgery involving general anesthesia. In the picture are the doctor on the left, Katie and Anna in the middle, and the doctor's wife and youngest child on the right. They are both Muslim. One's religion is not a big deal in Cote d'Ivoire, and Christians and Muslims blend seamlessly--at least in my experience.

After a lovely breakfast of omelet with baguette Nescafe (an Ivorian product) and condensed milk, we continued our drive south. By noon, we had reached San Pedro, the major exporting port for Cote d'Ivoire, through which most beans for American chocolate pass as well as the many tons of tropical hardwood that go into building European homes.

We walked around the port quickly so Katie and Anna could see for themselves how cocoa beans are exported. Then we drove back to Saf Cacao. Owned by Ali Lakiss, a Shiite from Southern Lebanon, Saf Cacao is the fourth largest cocoa buyer in Cote d'Ivoire. Numbers one through three are, respectively, Cargill, ADM, and Barry Callebaut. Years ago, I poked my head over the wall surrounding Saf Cacao to take a picture. A window opened in the administration building, and Ali stuck his head out and said, "Come on in and take your photos! We have nothing to hide!" Needless to say, American and European companies would never do such a thing.

Ali Lakiss in his office in August, 2007...

Ali assigned his son to take us around. We started at the QC labs, of which there are two, one for testing the FFA (free fatty acids) of cocoa butter and the other for quality grading the beans themselves. Every truckload that enters Saf-Cacao is tested for quality and payment is predicated on it.

In this photo, the lab technician explains the method for determining TTA or titratable acidity. First, you dissolve the fat in ether and then in alcohol. A standardized solution of NaOH is dropped into the flask containing the sample and 2 drops of phenolphthalein. Simple Chem 101 methodology. No hoods are in the lab, so pay attention with the ether!!

We then entered the cocoa drying building, which houses about 30,000 tons of cocoa beans bagged up for export. Each section is identifiable by quality, so if you buy from Saf Cacao, you specify the quality you want (% moldy, slaty, etc.) At one end of the enormous warehouse are the drying ovens which drive the moisture of the beans that have arrived from the country to 7%. At that temperature, they will keep for years. The drying ovens heat the beans to about 180 degrees F, hot enough to kill bugs but not so hot as to alter flavors. Needless to say, really high quality cocoa is not dried this way. But Cote d'Ivoire doesn't supply the quality market. When you eat Easter bunnies, candy bars, Easter eggs, and Halloween chocolates, you are eating Ivorian beans. Period.

Our next tour was of the new building behind the warehouse. Ali is going to be producing chocolate liquor (100% chocolate) within a year. His is one of the very few grinding plants in Cote d'Ivoire. Traditionally, beans were exported to ports with large grinding companies such as Philadelphia and Rotterdam. Today, as energy costs rise, it makes sense to process the beans in the country of origin. Shipping costs are based more on volume than weight, so the more you fit in a tub (aka ship), the lower the shipping costs. Here's one of the mammoth machines that have been installed...

About 1 PM, we set out for the 6 hour trek back to Abidjan. We knew the road would be bad, and we also knew that it is highly unwise to travel at night, because there are people who dig up the roads, cause accidents, then steal everything in the car. About halfway through the trip, however, the driver got a little too close to the soft edge, and our car roll into the ditch, its occupants dangling upside down from their seatbelts. People immediately stopped and helped us out, then rolled the car back over. One person cut down a lot of weeds, and Arsene was able to drive the car back onto the road. Every side window was busted and the windshield heavily cracked. But other than a couple cuts, we were all fine

We left the scene of the accident (because it's not safe to "be vulnerable" after dark) and drove to the nearest large town (Grand Lahou), where we spent an additional 2 hours dealing with police. One of Albert's friends met us there, so Katie, Anna, and I rode with him while Albert and Arsene drove the jeep. We arrived in Abidjan at 9 PM, ate a fine meal of anteater and fish, and then headed to the airport.

There, we picked up the lost piece of luggage containing the tchotchkis, then said our good-byes at 11 PM. This of course could not be the real end of the adventure. Oh no. More had to happen...

We stood around until 1 AM with several hundred others. They finally let us check in, and we sat and snoozed until 6:30 AM, when we boarded the plane whose arrival had been delayed by a pilot strike for 5 hours. Needless to say, we missed our connection to NYC, so we slept on the floor of Terminal 4 in JFK for 6 hours and paid an additiional $1020 because of the Royal Air Maroc pilot strike to Delta Airlines, and finally made it to LAX, 12 hours late.

But, all's well that ends well....